An elitist criticises the state of criticism

Via Arts & Letters Daily, I discovered a blog written by board members of the National Book Critics Circle. They have a guest post: Morris Dickstein on the Critical Landscape Today. I like some of the points he makes, and I too lament the falling-away of book reviews in major newspapers. I can’t help thinking it’s a very bad sign for the state of reading in America. But Dickstein betrays a basic elitism that I really can’t agree with:

But book reviews, to be of any value, demand a trained sensibility and real critical expertise; they need to furnish more than rough-hewn consumer guidance and the colorful peeves of the man in the street.

This kind of thinking, in any field, ends up producing reviews (and elevating creations) that speak only to a small coterie of insiders. Hardly the stuff that will save reviews in newspapers, which need to be aimed at a popular audience.

3 Replies to “An elitist criticises the state of criticism”

  1. I recall a study (lost reference) of book reviews by amateurs on Amazon.com – and found once 11 reviews are performed on a book, the collective rating tends to agree with an “educated” critic’s single review. (This I believe one could extend to movies and other things commonly reviewed Wiki-style on the Web) The benefit I see is that amateurs are not beholding to what they review so tend to be a bit more plain spoken (i.e. “I spent $14.99 on this and felt I was disappointed because of ). Most are not as articulate, well written or erudite – but I am starting to wonder how important that might be since the purpose is to provide guidance for purchasing decisions (or allocations of time).

    But in a more direct agreement to your post: In the art world – they have excluded the primary consumers of art (the public) from the judgment of it – and thereby removed art from the public effectively. By pre-disqualifying *you* and *me* from having a meaningful opinion about art pieces – it goes right up into an ivory tower accountable to no one and caught in a spiral of self indulgence. The critics HAVE to be toadies to the establishment or be frozen out. And they now talk about a “crisis of criticism.” You bet – and whose fault is that?

    The dusty/musty offices of the elite critics remind me a bit of prominent Southern families after the Civil War – destitute, but proud as they polish a vase whose decoration rubbed off long ago and cry about the fall of elitism – their elitism.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Bromo. You should definitely start a blog. (Although there are also ways to track one’s comments from across the web, I believe–which could be a sort of blog!)

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